The game started well for the Tampa Bay Lightning but it didn’t end the way they would have preferred it to, as the Bolts dropped a 3-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.
If a game can be said to have two distinct personalities, tonight’s contest certainly did; unfortunately for the Lightning, the part favoring them ended with just over five minutes still to play in period one.
Tampa Bay got on the scoreboard early as Lightning forward Matt Pettinger intercepted a clearing pass in the Carolina zone. His shot was blocked by Hurricane goaltender Cam Ward, but Ryan Craig shoveled the rebound into the net for his first goal of the season at 5:05. For Craig, who has battled a series of injuries, the score was also his first since November 2007. Adam Hall also received an assist on the goal.
"Pettinger got the puck toward the net and I was lucky enough to bang it home,” Craig explained.
Tampa Bay, forechecking aggressively, added to the lead just 96 seconds later when Vaclav Prospal intercepted a pass along the side board in the Carolina zone. Prospal flipped the puck to the slot where Vincent Lecavalier was waiting. As Prospal charged the net, Lecavalier shot and the puck subsequently deflected off Prospal and over Ward’s shoulder into the net. The goal was Prospal’s eighth of the season.
The Lightning survived a scare at the 9:30 mark when Mike Smith, starting his ninth straight game in the Tampa Bay net, gloved a shot and skated out clear of his crease to attempt to jumpstart the rush the other way. His clearing pass was picked off at the blueline and the Hurricanes launched a shot at the empty net which Lightning forward Ryan Malone was able to block.
With defenseman Steve Eminger in the penalty box for interference, Carolina began to climb back into the game when Justin Williams slapped at a loose puck and knocked it through the crease and into the Lightning net. The power play goal came at 14:46 of the first period and began a momentum shift from which the Tampa Bay would never recover.
The Hurricanes struck again just 71 seconds later to tie the score at two goals apiece. Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg blasted a shot from the blueline which hit Chad LaRose in the leg and changed direction just enough to slip beneath Smith’s blocker.
Shots after one period favored Carolina, 12-10, but from that point forward, the Lightning would muster only nine additional shots on the Hurricane net.
Smith made a number of outstanding saves in the second period, especially a right pad save at the five minute mark on a backhand shot by LaRose from just outside the crease, but his heroics fell short as Joni Pitkanen made the Carolina turnaround complete at 6:21, when his slapshot from the left point weaved through traffic, hit the post to Smith’s left and ended up in the twine.
The Lightning lost more than the lead in the second period when defenseman Andrej Meszaros was hit in the face with a slapshot and immediately headed for the locker room. Meszaros did not return for the remainder of the game.
Tampa Bay, already skating short on defense with Paul Ranger, Lukas Krajicek and Jaime Heward sidelined, played the rest of the game with five defensemen, three of whom had 20 games or less of NHL experience.
Despite some steady pressure at times, the Lightning were unable to crack through for the tying goal and the third period was scoreless.
Mike Smith stopped 25 of 28 shots in the losing effort and the Lightning, behind four by Ryan Malone, out hit the Hurricanes, 22-13.
"I thought the first 10 minutes we came out flying," Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said. "The next 10 minutes they took over. We threw a puck away, got a penalty and they got the momentum."
The Lightning will have to seek the momentum on the road, starting tomorrow in Atlanta against the Thrashers. They won’t return home until January 15th, five games from now.
1 - 0 TBL
2 - 0 TBL
2 - 1 TBL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 CAR
Interference on goalkeeper